A recent disquieting report detailed how five months after a panel set up to probe the alleged involvement of the suspended head of the Police Intelligence Response Team, Abba Kyari, submitted its report, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, has yet to forward his recommendations to the Police Service Commission. The inexplicable delay cements public perception that the anti-corruption war is floundering. Sadly, it is not an isolated case; several other high-profile probes and reports meriting swift action and closure are in abeyance, casting doubt on the commitment of the regime of the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to its much-hyped campaign against corruption.
Buhari should compel action on this and other unresolved corruption probes to restore credibility to the war on graft and repair the country’s tattered reputation.
And not just its reputation; the country is bleeding as corrupt officials, politicians, business operators and other non-state actors continue to fleece public finances. Apart from slipping further to 149th out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index 2020, trending reports of budget padding, non-remittance of funds by public agencies and outright theft demonstrate the failure of the state to slow down the looting. This is disastrous. As the United Nations Office on Crime and Drugs emphasised, corruption “continues to undermine the social, economic and political development of the country.”
Corruption thrives on the back of the inconsistencies and compromises in the official campaign against graft. The Buhari regime also subverts its stated headline policy by its unwillingness to bring high-profile investigations to their logical conclusion. The Kyari/Hushpuppi scandal is typical. Over the years, the regime has set up probe panels on large-scale financial scandals or gross misconduct. Largely, reports of such investigations are never made public, and those found wanting are neither named nor prosecuted.
Kyari was suspended after he was indicted in July 2021 by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation for his alleged role in a $1.1 million Internet scam carried out by a suspected fraudster, Abbas Ramon, aka Hushpuppi, and four others. The IG, in August 2021, constituted a panel to probe the allegations against Kyari. But five months after, the PSC, which is the statutory body saddled with disciplinary powers for police officers, said it had not received any recommendations from the IG through the Force Disciplinary Committee though the panel had submitted its report to the IG.
Such conduct contradicts the regime’s rhetoric on corruption. Some 19 months after, Ibrahim Magu remains suspended as the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Following a bitter public spat with the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, Magu had been arrested, suspended and later, probed by the Ayo Salami-led panel for alleged misconduct, including improper disposal of recovered loot. But since the panel submitted its report to the President in November 2020, the public has not been apprised of its findings, only for Buhari to appoint Abdulrasheed Bawa as substantive EFCC boss in February 2021.
In May 2021, Buhari suspended the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala-Usman, over the alleged non-remittance of N165.32 billion operating surplus, among other allegations. Again, the President set up a panel to probe this and another N3.6 billion, and $150 million unremitted Value Added Tax. Bala-Usman, who like Magu and Malami, had before then engaged in a public feud with the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, was later sacked in July and another NPA boss was appointed. As usual, nothing has been heard of the report of the panel, and no one held accountable for the unremitted sums.
Also, in September 2021, two years after he ordered a forensic audit of the operations of the Niger Delta Development Commission, the report was submitted to the President through Malami, who said over 13,000 projects were compromised and uncompleted despite the NDDC receiving N6 trillion in 19 years. Many politicians were reportedly indicted in the sleaze but over four months after receiving the report, its details remain under wraps.
The stench of corruption returned in November 2021 when the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Bolaji Owasanoye, alleged that 257 projects worth N20.13 billion were duplicated in the 2021 budget. The Budget Office of the Federation later claimed that “only 185 projects” were duplicated. No official has been held responsible or punished for the fraud nor have the missing billions been accounted for.
Elsewhere, governance is a serious undertaking and respond swiftly and decisively to public scandals. In the United States, the New York State Attorney-General, Letitia James, successfully probed sexual harassment allegations against Governor Andrew Cuomo within months and the report submitted in August 2021. Exposed by the report showing that he sexually harassed 11 women, Cuomo resigned immediately. Prosecution remains a possibility.
Between February and November 2020, a Cabinet Office inquiry probed United Kingdom Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who was found guilty of bullying civil servants. In August 2020, an ex-British Member of Parliament, Eric Joyce, was conclusively probed for child abuse and was subsequently sentenced.
As 2022 begins, Buhari needs to be decisive and firm in prosecuting the anti-graft fight. Probes must have deadlines and be brought to their logical conclusion without unnecessary delays, taciturnity, or unending controversies. A successful anti-corruption war cannot afford sacred cows, bow to politics, religion, sectionalism, or personal interests. President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive exposed and punished over 50,000 Chinese Communist Party and officials, some of them his long-time allies, in the three years to 2020.
There must also be strong institutional capacity on the part of the judiciary. The National Assembly should exercise effective oversight, demand the release of reports of all probes as well as the swift prosecution of offenders. Civil society groups should not give up, but through unrelenting public engagement, lawsuits, petitions, and the Freedom of Information Act, apply pressure on the recalcitrant regime. There should be no cover-ups any longer and no sacred cows.
Contact: [email protected]